AL JAZEERA AMERICA 360 LAUNCH

THE CHALLENGE

On August 20th, 2013, Al Jazeera Media Network, one of the largest and most respected news organizations in the world, launched a cable news channel in the U.S. called Al Jazeera America (AJAM), with the promise of bringing a new level of depth and unbiased reporting to domestic news.

The challenges were many: build awareness for a relatively unknown brand, combat consumers’ deep rooted misconceptions about a foreign-owned media organization, and carve an own-able position in an already saturated cable news marketplace.

The AJAM marketing team, lead by Kathy Tankosic and Jerry Connelly, turned to Leroy & Clarkson and an NYC digital brand shop called Maude to work together and figure out how to brand & launch a Muslim-owned new network in post-911 America.

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My initial gut reaction was simple: All they have to do is point out how American News has completely lost its way, and present themselves as a return to real journalism. I mean, have you turned on CNN lately? Oh, and mmmmaybe change that name and the Arabic logo? But that was shortsighted.

Al Jazeera executives were vary wary of an aggressive entrance into the U.S. cable news landscape. They knew that all eyes would be on them, waiting to pounce at the slightest misstep. There were literally congressman in Washington actively lobbying to prevent them from ever getting to air. They needed to be delicate, and thoughtful, and figure out a way in to the homes of average Americans without having the world cave in on them.

As to changing the name and logo, AJAM was very proud of their legacy. They are revered in much of the world for their long history of giving a voice to the voiceless. They are banned in several Middle Eastern country for speaking ill of the government. So the notion that they would discard their legacy was simply out of the question. Not to mention the repercussions of entering the U.S. marketplace under an anglo-washed, fake identity. Clearly, a terrible idea.

THE SOLUTION

After immersing ourselves in the brand’s philosophy and surveying the already crowded cable news space, we emerged with a campaign that would ignore the false assumptions, avoid disparaging the competition, and showcase the new channel’s point of difference. It would be a campaign free of artifice. We would create documentary-like commercials showcasing stories about real Americans whose lives had been touched by major news events. All of this around AJAM’s campaign headline “There’s More To It” – a simple statement that invited viewers to sample and cleverly hinted at preconceived notions about the network.

In the following months, a great many of us at L+C sort of became de facto news researchers. We had to identify people connected to major news stories from the last year or so – but they had to be people whose stories were mostly untold by major news outlets, and they had to be willing to go on camera in support of a Middle Eastern news network named Al Jazeera America who’s primary reputation was as the (perceived) mouthpiece of Al Quaida. To help us in this task, we hired some researchers from 20/20 to show us the ropes and do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Once we identified the stories, myself, Kyle Baron-Cohen, and David Evans crafted scripts that would compliment the living portrait style of the campaign.

In addition to the 3 hero spots, we created several all-graphic spots that could show of some of the writing in the campaign. These were meant to take gentle jabs at the current state of U.S. TV news, while staying within the overall message of “There’s More To It”. We wrote about 50 of these “No / Know” combos, settling on just a select few for billboards (see below) and TV.

In the TV spots, L+C established a look and feel for the entire campaign. We then created a style guide that established graphic guidelines for print, digital, and OOH.  Our digital agency partner, Maude, took that foundation and did some writing of their own, matching lines in the consumer’s voice against portrait imagery they shot with photographer Martin Schoeller. This manifested itself in a massive national campaign – with a strong showing in about 8 major markets. For months in NYC, you could hardly go anywhere without running into some AJAM creative.

AFTERMATH

Apparently, it worked. Our integrated effort, complete with TV, print, digital and out-of-home, sparked a wave of new deals for the channel. Americans called up their cable providers in droves and demanded that they carry Al Jazeera America – causing what started out in 43 million homes to rise to 54 million homes and counting.

It was an incredibly challenging project to work on. Cathy Tankosic & Jerry Connolly @ AJAM were amazing collaborators and I definitely consider it one of the creative highlights of my entire career.

Daniel Fries directed all of the spots. Adam Santelli (famed lead singer of legendary Colombus Ohio hardcore band Human Sufferage) was the DP. Kyle Baron-Cohen, David Evans, & myself were the lead writers. Adam McClelland & Corey Weisz were the lead editors. Carla Dasso was the lead designer and did a truly stellar job. Chris Harmon was the lead animator. Jean Pichot led the animation of the No/Know spots.. All of the print, OOH, & digital was finalized at Maude under the esteemed creative direction of Neil Marks. Below is just a sampling of just some of the work.

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